When I was 3 years old something big happened in my life. My mother, my 1-year-old brother and I were on our way to a birthday party in a neighboring town. Times being what they were, we were traveling by bus. And engineering being what it was, somehow the bus caught fire.
Something underneath the rear wheels of the bus was burning; flames and black smoke were shooting out of the wheel wells into the bus. The bus slowed and bounced off the curb and my Mom grabbed my younger brother and the birthday presents and ran off the bus. The driver had already abandoned ship and the bus was still rolling and still on fire. Passersby were throwing garbage cans in front of the bus trying to get it to stop rolling. So yes, in summary, I am 3 years old by myself on a public transit bus that is on fire and rolling with no driver.
What I remember next is that a man scooped me up carried me off the bus and delivered me safely to my mother. (BTW, she has never lived down this story about leaving me on a burning bus and picking up the birthday presents instead of me.) No one knows who the man was that scooped me up but suffice it to say he had a big impact on my life. He saved it.
He was probably thanked at the time but in all the commotion may not have been thanked as he should have been and he went about the rest of his day feeling like he had done something good.
Which brings me to the fire. Not the one on the bus but the one that just swept through Knights Valley and the area just west of Calistoga. It was déjà vu from the Tubbs Fire of 2017. Everything burned. Everything except our house. The fire was at our doorstep but a firefighting crew saved the house. Like the man who saved me on the bus, we will probably never know the firefighters who were at our house and may not have the chance to thank them appropriately.
The only positive part — if we can call it that at all — of the fires is the neighbors. Some brave but maybe foolish souls always stay behind and feed the critters and provide updates on what is burning and what is not. Others evacuate like they are told but can provide updates using satellites and gadgetry beyond my technical expertise. All is done in the true spirit of watching out for each other as neighbors are supposed to do.
I refuse to believe that the fires are the “new normal.” There is nothing normal about them. The fires are fickle in that they can burn down all your neighbors’ houses but leave yours intact. The fires can change a life in a second and what is changed is never good.
We should never stop thanking the firefighters but we should figure out a way to stop the fires.
How do we thank the firefighters and all the others who prevented a terrible situation from being more horrific? Put up signs out front? Go to every pancake breakfast and lobster feed sponsored by firefighters? Make a donation to a firefighter cause? Wave to them as the trucks race by?
Whatever it is, it’s not enough. I hope all the first responders know that they are the heroes we need in days like these.
After any apocalyptic event like the recent fire, the roads are full of signs proclaiming, “Thank You First Responders!” and “We Love Firefighters.” Whoever you are out there who saved our home, thanks and we really mean it.
Rich Moran is a columnist for The St. Helena Star.
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